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Afghanistan – a forgotten war

Written By: - Date published: 6:43 pm, February 15th, 2016 - 27 comments
Categories: afghanistan, war - Tags: , , , ,

In 2001 the United States attacked Afghanistan with the aim of removing the Taliban from power and destroying a base for militant Islamic terrorism (specifically, Al Qaeda, which had its own roots in the CIA funded and trained Afghan Mujahadeen).

The Taliban were equipped mainly with obsolete weaponry dating back to the Soviet/Afghan war of the 1980s and did not stand a chance.

In recent years the US has been slowly drawing down their forces based in Afghanistan, as improvements in the security situation and the ability of local Afghan forces to ‘stand up’ allow.

Even the NZ SAS has had a hand in Afghanistan combat operations.

Now, only 9,800 American troops remain in the country, well down on the peak of almost one hundred thousand troops during the “surge” of 2010.

Although the Americans are slowly extricating themselves from Afghanistan, life for the ordinary Afghan person is as dangerous than ever:

The number of civilians killed or injured in Afghanistan in 2015 was the highest in the last seven years amid increased fighting between pro-government forces and insurgent groups, including the Taliban, the United Nations said in its annual report.

According to the UN’s 2015 Annual Report on Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict, the total number of civilian casualties recorded in the last year amounted to more than 11,000, including more than 3,500 deaths and almost 7,500 injuries.

“This report records yet another rise in the number of civilians hurt or killed. The harm done to civilians is totally unacceptable,” Nicholas Haysom, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan and head of the UNAMA, said in a press release.

While the west can send its own men and women back to safe, comfortable homes, the Afghani locals are forced to deal with this ongoing bloodshed and instability – or to flee as refugees.

Worse, there are reports that ISIS/Daesh are now operating in Afghanistan.

It is also worth remembering that ISIS has its roots in the US effort to ‘regime change’ Iraq and the thousands of Iraqi military officers made unemployed overnight when the US arbitrarily decided to disband the Iraqi armed forces and stop paying Iraqi soldiers’ wages.

Over and over again, western led regime change is the quick and easy part: developing a functional new democratic government and effective nation building is the hard (or impossible) part.

Getting the terrorists sounds like a good idea – unless it ends up a self fulfilling prophecy and stoking a perpetual “war against terror.”

And this is the result after spending over US$600B in Afghanistan (a very conservative financial estimate which does not take into account the long term costs of the conflict).

Perhaps the western hawks still pushing for regime change in Syria should pay attention to recent history.




27 comments on “Afghanistan – a forgotten war ”

  1. Paul 1

    The work by Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson in this area has been invaluable.

    And the US ain’t learning

    • Colonial Viper 1.1

      Yep. It’s happened so many times this way that it can’t simply be accidental or coincidental. And it’s why the writer Pepe Escobar calls the US-centric western empire the “Empire of Chaos.”


    • Exkiwiforces 1.2

      Also read David Kilcullen’s 3 books:

      The Accidental Guerrilla “Fighting Small Wars in the midst of a Big One,”
      Counter Insurgency,
      Out of the Mountains “The Coming Age of the Urban Guerrilla” and he has a fourth book coming out around March April of this year.

      Its’ worth the time to read his book’s as he spent time in Gan and Iraq. He doesn’t hold back on his views on what should’ve, may have happen and should’ve not happen.

      One last thing for those who didn’t know the U.S Armed Forces did not have a Counter Insurgency Doctine prior to going into the Gan and later on in Iraq. Funny that I recall a similar war zone where they didn’t have Counter Insurgency Doctine it was called Vietnam. As one Vietnam Vet once said to me over few Jug’s of beer at the local RSA when I last home on leave “They use a sledge hammer to crack a walnut it may sound good, but it’s the wrong tactic where fighting a Guerrilla war”.

      If I have time during the week/ weekend I’ll try and add to this thread.

    • savenz 1.3

      “And the US ain’t learning”

      Decades of US Charter schools at work….

  2. Ad 2

    Do you think the US-led coalition should have intervened in Afghanistan?

    • ropata 2.1

      Do you think these military adventures have been worthwhile?

      • Ad 2.1.1

        I’m hoping CV can do more than just make implied remarks.

        • Colonial Viper

          Do you think the US-led coalition should have intervened in Afghanistan?

          I left it as an inference because the dots are pretty easy to connect.

          Firstly, let’s strip out the fig leaf languaging of the “US-led coalition” and just call it for what it was: the US, with a bit of back up from the UK. And one third of sweet FA from anyone else.

          Secondly, let’s remember that out of the 9/11hijackers, 15 were from Saudi Arabia, the rest were from Lebanon, Egypt and the UAE. And how many from Afghanistan? Zero.

          Thirdly a primary aim of the invasion was to get Osama Bin Laden. Which it failed to do. Years later it would become apparent that the Pakistan intelligence services – this is the same Pakistan that the US helps with hundreds of millions in military aid – were hiding Bin Laden. That was what the Taliban Government was accused by the US of doing. Note that the US did not invade Pakistan however.

          Fourthly, Afghanistan continues to be a breeding ground for militant Islamism, terrorism and is now an operating area for ISIS/Daesh.

          Fifthly, the US chose a very particular kind of “intervention” in Afghanistan – in fact, its usual ‘regime change’ tango followed by the usual ‘install puppet government’ stage show.

          Sixthly, as Dmitry Orlov notes, it is weird how declining empires always go straight into Afghanistan as one of the last major acts they do.

          Perhaps you can draw what I am inferring from what I’ve written.

          • Ad

            As a militarized approach I just think you don’t go far enough.

            It’s more then a waste.

            The US approach in Afghanistan has altered this world far more than its defeat in Vietnam. It has caused the primary negative force in the world today: militarized Islam.

            To me it’s not just that Afghanistan had nothing do to with 9/11. It’s simply that it has set off world-altering events that are now completely out of control.

      • Andre 2.1.2

        In the aftermath of 9/11, it would have been politically impossible for the US not to go into Afghanistan. From New Zealand, it’s hard to appreciate how big a psychological impact it had on Americans, even the sensible ones. Even Ralph Nader would not have been able to resist the war drums, let alone Al Gore. Bear in mind that there had been quite a few smaller attacks leading up to it, such as the ’98 embassy bombings in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, or the ’97 murder of 60-odd tourists (mostly Swiss) at Hatshepsut’s temple in Egypt .

        At the time, there was quite a lot of international support for going into Afghanistan, including from Afghanistan’s neighbours and locals. In many ways, it was viewed as a “just” war. So for a while, there probably was an opportunity to oust the Taliban, and replace it was something better for the locals.

        Sadly, Bush badly ruined that opportunity (if it ever was truly there), then dropped a grenade in the long-drop by invading Iraq. Which is not to say that Gore, Clinton, Nader or Obama would have in fact handled things much better.

        • Colonial Viper

          Although your analysis has merit, I decline to subscribe to the notion that there were no alternatives.

          So for a while, there probably was an opportunity to oust the Taliban, and replace it was something better for the locals.

          So it was with the US and: Iraq, Libya, Ukraine, Syria. A few decades ago you could have said the same about US backed interventions in: Afghanistan, Chile, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Argentina, Iran, Iraq…

          Odd how in each situation things actually ended up much worse “for the locals” for many years, not better.

          Ask yourself – where did the Taliban come from, why they were so militantly Islamist, and how was it that they ended up in charge of Afghanistan, a country which had been a liberal democracy and one of the nicest holiday destinations for westerners and hippies in the 1960s?

          • Ad

            I view the US-led invasion of Afghanistan as one of the very worst of US interventions in modern history.

            The radicalism and human evil of the Taliban in suppressing women, cultural expression and social and economic development is worth opposing militarily. It still is worth opposing.

            But the US approach hasn’t worked. It’s made it worse and on a world-altering scale.

            There’s a case to be made that the US military approach in Afghanistan caused the birth of variants of radicalized rage that have now spread across the world. This kind of Islam is spreading, is successful, and has served as the primary model to Islam right across the world that the terrorists can win against the mightiest military in the world – the US.

            In this way, the US loss in Afghanistan is as important to the future of militarized Islam as its loss in Vietnam was to the Communism. Except there is no chance of militarized Islam now ever going away.

            I remember reading “Clash of Civilisations” when it came out as a prophecy, with a sense of shock. I kept thinking about what it would take to persuade incredibly oppressive regimes that basic human rights to freedom of expression, gender equality, healthcare and to social and economic development.

            But at about the same time I also read “Empire” by Hardt and Negri, and I realized how impossible it would ever be for the US military-industrial-policy complex to actually enable greater fulfillment of those rights.

            What the US have done to Islamic countries since the fall of Communism is the most devastating permanent negative shift to human development since WW1. Granted, they are not the only cause.

            Nor do I agree that this approach was inevitable, even after 9/11. A model which started with a military component but with continued with a comprehensive UN-led social development approach could have altered that entire country for good. INstead, its valleys are returning to Opium production, suppressing music, and essentially re-enslaving women.

            The world is going to keep paying for these last three decades of US-accelerated militarization of Islam for a century.

          • Andre

            I think a growing part of the American population are starting to understand that military adventures abroad are a really crap idea, both for Americans going off to get killed and maimed, and for the locals. But I fear it’s still going to be a generation before that view becomes a strong enough majority that a better response to something like 9/11 becomes politically possible in the US.

            In terms of the outcome actually achieved in Afghanistan, well, what Ad said.

            A lot of the other interventions you mention, Chile, Nicaragua, Vietnam, Iraq 2, I can’t see any tiniest kind of defence of the American actions. The sooner top Americans can get hauled in front of war-crimes courts, the better.

            How far back do you want to go in looking for the “why”? As Gristle points out, Kissinger has had a big part in shaping the fucked-up attitudes and policies the US operates under today. But Kissinger had his own prior influences.

            Oil plays a big part in current decision-making for Middle East American military adventures. No matter how much the RWNJs deny it. So that’s another huge reason to get off our fossil-fuel dependence.

            As for Afghani politics and historical influences, that’s way too complex for me to get my head around sensibly. I would much prefer leaving them to sort themselves out, with interventions restricted to limiting internal violence and human rights abuses.

          • Karen

            I think “liberal democracy” is a bit misleading. It was certainly a lot more liberal but never a democracy, and outside of Kabul it wasn’t what I would call liberal. However it was a million times better than now and I think USA overseas policy is definitely the the main reason it is such a mess now.

            This is a reasonably good brief summary:

            I was actually in Afghanistan in 1973 and again in 1978, soon after the coups of those years. Kabul was definitely more liberal than Pakistan or Iran as far as the attitude to women but not so much outside the capital. It was full burkha in Khandahar and Herat but in 1978, at a political rally in Mazar i Sharif, some women got up on the stage and removed them just keeping their head scarfs on. I often wonder what happened to those women.


            • Colonial Viper

              Thanks Karen for the first hand report.

              Worth while remembering that the Pashtun ran large areas of the nation even then.

    • sabine 2.2

      no they should not have.
      Full stop.

    • Gristle 2.3

      Come on Ad. Is your question to CV implying that these military interventions justified? If it so stop being so passive and asking people to justify their opinions. Put your opinion out there. Do the hard work of constructing strong logical and ethical arguments supported by credible evidence.

      Sitting on the side and throwing stones is too easy, and it destroys the value of places like TS. That sort of post puts me of reading anything the poster puts up, let alone engaging with. (Yes I am engaging with you, but its only because I am feeling particularly happy tonight.)

  3. Gristle 3

    Afghanistan is only one of many forgotten wars. However, a key player in determining US foreign policy since the 1960’s has been one Henry Kissinger: don’t forget him.  The likes of Dick Cheney and Paul Wolfowitz sort advice from him regarding post 9/11 responses.

    Though old, he still has strong influence amongst the Republicans, and of course the Clinton’s.

    No doubt arguments will be made that if we hadn’t killed off these people here then some untold damage would have been undertaken. to preserve USA interests millions have died because of “..apple pie.”

    The monumental irony of Kissinger getting a Noble Peace Prize for a negotiated end to the Vietnam War after being instrumental in prolonging the damned thing by 4 or 5 years has yet to be surpassed.

    “A full tally hasn’t been done, but a back-of-the-envelope count would attribute 3, maybe 4 million deaths to Kissinger’s actions, but that number probably undercounts his victims in southern Africa. Pull but one string from the current tangle of today’s multiple foreign policy crises, and odds are it will lead back to something Kissinger did between 1968 and 1977. Over-reliance on Saudi oil? That’s Kissinger. Blowback from the instrumental use of radical Islam to destabilize Soviet allies? Again, Kissinger. An unstable arms race in the Middle East? Check, Kissinger. Sunni-Shia rivalry? Yup, Kissinger. The impasse in Israel-Palestine? Kissinger. Radicalization of Iran? “An act of folly” was how veteran diplomat George Ball described Kissinger’s relationship to the Shah. Militarization of the Persian Gulf? Kissinger, Kissinger, Kissinger.”

    Kissinger is too smart for his good and definitely too smart for our good.

    • Ad 3.1

      The US approach to Afghanistan isn’t about one person.
      There are plenty of books out there on the specific decision-making processes that went into both Vietnam and Afghanistan.

  4. savenz 4

    A big factor contributing to these wars and the out of control outcomes is the mainstream media.

    The media is now broadcasting the right wing government message.

    After Vietnam the governments now seem to rely on sophisticated media propaganda to prop up their wars.

    There was huge public resistance in the UK against the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq (in fact the government had to pretend there was an imminent threat of weapons of mass destructions and the UK man who disputed that David Kelly a weapons inspector was persecuted by the government to his death.)

    The UK people were against the government’s actions. The media helped the government lie to get it through.

    MSM are guilty of war crimes too.

    • AmaKiwi 4.1

      Many people love video war games. Presidents and prime ministers do, too. Only they get to play with real weapons producing real dead bodies.

      There have be several articles of late about recent American presidents becoming addicted to the excitement of running a war. (I am sorry I can’t give citations.)

      If it required a binding referendum preceded by a month of national debate in order for a country to go to war, there would be no wars.

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    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    2 weeks ago